Meeting the Shadow Self

I am happy, that the shadow self, the anguished self, the broken and so long unacceptable parts of the self are being given their due at last. No longer do we need to avoid these parts that call out to us, no longer do we need to drown their urgent calls with the ‘be happy’ song, instead in ever growing circles there is the acknowledgement, that these parts of ourselves need to be visited, loved, their messages received and integrated in wholeness, Oneness.

Jesus had to deal with the abyss, he called it the Devil. Buddha called his torturer Mara. In recent times, we have the likes of Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle, who talk of their deep depression, despair, suffering and wandering before the light came. And so it’s becoming okay to be ‘not okay ‘ and much more acceptable to go down into the deep dark recesses of our sub conscious, in search of that which will make us whole. But not all come back from these journeys, not all come out holding the light. What is it that makes the difference ? What is it that allows some to come back with shining radiance and peace and others to crawl out fragmented, lost and dead to the world?

Mythology from the world around, tell us that this need to descend into the depths of our being for wholeness, this need to go in search of our dragons has been around since a long time, and there is a way that we can come back with the treasure, the completeness – the need of which sent us on the search in the first place.

Innana , The Queen of Heaven and Earth is the most beloved and revered deity of the ancient Sumerian civilization. The story of her life has been put together from clay tablets which date as far back as 2000B.C., Innana is one of the very few myths, which talks of the grand journey of the female psyche from infancy to adolescence- to the joyous awakening of sexuality, to powerful queen ship and sovereignty and then to the giving away of sovereignty for love and further on to the embracing of the darker side of self and finally to death and resurrection as the Goddess Innana. But here we are interested in the great queen Innana as she leaves her domain of heaven and earth, her many temples, her disinterested husband to travel to the great underground.

Innana moves from the Great Above (of which she is queen) to the Great Below. She abandons heaven and earth to descend to the underworld. For her journey, Innana dresses in all her queenly and womanly splendour . She wears her royal crown, her royal necklace of lapis beads around her neck, her royal robes, she daubes her eyes with the mysterious ointment called ‘let him come, let him come’, she binds her breasts with the breast plate called ‘come man come’, slips the gold ring over her wrist and holds the royal lapis measuring- rod in her hand. Dressed in all things that proclaim her queenly power and status in heaven and on earth. she gets ready to descend to the underworld to meet her sister, – Ereshkigal, Goddess of the underworld, her shadow self.

She will soon learn that all her paraphernalia, so indicative of her accomplishments and rank in the upper world hold little meaning in the great underground. But before she leaves for the underworld from where no one can return alive, she does something most sensible. She speaks to her constant companion Ninshuber , and tells her that if she, Innana does not return in three days – to set up a lament by the ruins. To go to the Gods and cry out , so that the Gods are moved to bring her back to the world of the living .
Innana, having thus given instructions to her trusted ally Ninshuber, descends to the great underworld. She has to pass through the seven gates of this dark mysterious place and at each gate, her ego and its trappings are a little diminished. At the first gate itself, the gate keeper takes her royal crown , at the second gate the small lapis beads are removed from her neck, at the third gate the double strand of beads that covered her breasts are removed, at the forth gate her breast plate is removed, at the fifth gate the gold ring is removed, at the sixth gate, the lapis measuring- rod is taken away and at the seventh and final gate , she is relieved of her most basic covering- her royal robes , and ‘naked and bowed low’ Innana enters the presence of the Goddess of the underworld Ereshkigal, and it is said that Ereshkigal , queen of the great underground, who has long been ignored, who has been forced to live in the dark and among the dead all her life, forced to eat clay and drink muddy water fastens on her bright heavenly sister Innana , her wrathful eye – the eye of death and Innana is turned into a corpse, a piece of rotting meat hung from the wall by a hook.

When after three days and three nights Innana does not return, Ninshuber does as she is instructed, she sets up a lament by the ruins, she beats the drum for Innana at the assembly places, she circles the houses of the Gods and in ragged and torn clothes, she asks the Gods for help. On hearing Ninshuber’s cry, Enki, the god of wisdom sends his emissaries to go and rescue Innana from the great underground. On her return she is not just queen but the most beloved Goddess of the ancient Sumerians!
What was true then, still holds good today. The Great Underground, the place where our shadow self lives has to be visited at some time as we journey towards self realization, in search of our forgotten God ship. But the rules of the underworld are different than the ones we know above, and there is a good chance that we may lose ourselves in its dark recesses and labyrinths if we go unaided by a higher power. The myth of Innana tells us what saved her – her link with heaven the highest power through her trusted ally Ninshuber.

In the Mahabharata, the great warrior Arjuna, finds himself in his own private hell , on the battleground of Kurukshetra. He faces not only his 100 nasty cousins, but a host of loved and respected relatives and elders. How do you stay the battleground, when the dragons you have to slay have taken on the shape of those of your nearest and dearest ones? Heading the enemy lines is the father figure Bheeshma, who has protected him, carried him and told him stories as a child, and right next to him stands Guru Dronacharya, who had promised and made Arjuna the greatest archer of all times. No wonder than that Arjuna wants to leave this dark place – the battleground. No wonder he feels weak and faint, yet he too has done that one sensible thing that Innana had done: he has entrusted the reigns of his chariot to a higher power – Krishna, and so Arjuna finds his way through the painful labyrinths of the war and emerges victorious.

In Greek Mythology, the young hero Theseus is the son of King Aegeus of Athens. Theseus is distressed to learn that his father is periodically forced to send the seven most courageous youths and the seven most beautiful maidens of Athens, to Crete as a sacrifice to Minotaur. Minotaur is a a half-man, half-bull monster that lives in a labyrinth, so complex, that no one has ever been able to escape from it.

Theseus in a bid to stop this horrible ritual, volunteers to take the place of one of the youths to be sacrificed. Dressed as a commoner, devoid of weapons, he arrives at Crete. Here Ariedne , the princess of Crete falls in love with Theseus and she gives him a a special ball of string made by the one who has built the Labyrinth. Theseus ties one end of the ball of string to the door post and walks the dark maze, till he finds the monster in the labyrinth, strangles him and then with the help of the string, the hero finds his way out to freedom. It’s important to note that this was no ordinary string, but made by one who had made the labyrinth and it was given in love.

The point is this. If the call from the great below comes and you find yourself moving in the direction of your personal dragons, through conscious choice or otherwise then heed the call but keep Ninshuber ready, Give Krishna your reigns, hold on to the magical thread, so that when you have travelled the underworld, slayed your dragons or embraced them, found your treasures whatever these may be, you return to your old world a God, at the very least a hero to yourself and maybe to others. And in this day and age, who could this charioteer, trusted aid be? Today, it could be your own strong faith in a God or deity, a prayer, a guru, it could be a sangha that you are part of, or a trusted friend who will hold you in the light of his or her faith as you make the journey to the great underground.

May all who travel return Whole

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12 Responses to Meeting the Shadow Self

  1. Sangeeta says:

    A thought provoking post, so relevant to our times. To explore the polarities of ‘positivity’ and ‘staying with our darkest emotions’ is sometimes necessary, before we can make our peace with the entirety of all that we are. To do this mindfully, without being carried away by the peak experience of one and the overwhelm of the other, having a ‘backup plan’ seems pragmatic to me. I find the message in this piece to be important, realistic and compassionate and I love how you have made your point using these diverse mythological tales. Thank you.

  2. Lovely tales and very relevant as I find myself in the dark night of the soul over and over again. I’m contemplating now who’s looking over me. Perhaps my Higher Self. Thank you for these fascinating tales. Love and Light

  3. Firuzi Mehta says:

    Loved this one, Erica. Am forwarding to a friend of mine who is very much into Jungian Psychology, mythology, etc.
    Keep them coming!

  4. megan hicks says:

    Many thanks for this beautiful, wise essay. I’m currently working on the story of Theseus, and you’ve given me a fresh perspective. I never paid that much attention to the Ariadne’s string; but there are unspoken volumes in the relationship between her and Daedalus, still grieving the loss of his own son.

  5. Alice Rebecca Watson says:

    Hello Erica. I used to live in Pune. Are you the Erica I met through the founder of Atiti Learning Center which is a school for girls near Kamshet? I love your article about meeting the shadow self. Like all of us, I have had many the Dark Night of the Soul experiences – self-suffering – and gradually learned to profit from them through surrender which helped me to then USE them to live lovingly and be of real help to others.

  6. samasti says:

    I think you are a great story teller Modhukori. Does your name mean the one with endless tales? I think my space talks a lot about my depression too, over the surroundings and my inner self. Imagine having to live life as the ‘other’ when the real you is inside? Caged? How terrible isn’t it?

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